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City Comptroller Blasts Parks Department Over Tree Maintenance

Stringer Says Agency's Practices Are Endangering People, Wasting Tax Dollars
FILE -- A woman leans on a tree at Central Park. (credit: Getty Images)

FILE — A woman leans on a tree at Central Park. (credit: Getty Images)

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork/AP) — New York’s chief fiscal officer on Sunday accused his city of endangering residents by failing to maintain many of the 650,000 trees lining streets.

Comptroller Scott Stringer says contractors hired to care for the urban greenery have pruned trees that didn’t need it and neglected those that required attention. In addition, there are questions about charges and record-keeping.

“Tax dollars are wasted, property is damaged and, worst of all, people are sometimes injured or killed,” said Stringer, who held a news conference on a sidewalk in Chelsea. “Time and time again in four of the five boroughs, the Parks Department failed to properly manage the work done by private contractors.

City Comptroller Blames Parks Department For Failing To Maintain Trees

stringer City Comptroller Blasts Parks Department Over Tree Maintenance
Glenn Schuck reports

“I don’t have to go out on a limb to tell you that our city’s performance is unacceptable,” Stringer told reporters, including 1010 WINS’ Glenn Schuck.

He blames the city agency for a mismanaged pruning program that has cost millions of dollars in claims for injuries and property damage.

“Look, you’re pruning the wrong trees,” Stringer said. “And we paid for tree prunings that didn’t happen.”

Although deaths caused by trees in parks have drawn the most attention, street trees can be equally dangerous, he said. Last week, a police officer was hospitalized after a branch fell on his head in Brooklyn.

Stringer’s negligence report is based on an audit by the comptroller’s office that tapped documents from July 2012 to November 2013.

Every day, a claim is filed against the city regarding a falling tree limb, Schuck reported.

“When the Parks Department, with responsibility for 650,000 trees, can’t figure out what the left hand and the right hand is doing, it causes a real danger to the community,” Stringer said. “It hurts the fiscal condition of our city.”

The department’s Forestry Service hires contractors to prune trees whose diameter is 5 inches or more.

The audit shows that Manhattan, the Bronx and Staten Island failed to provide private companies with accurate tree lists or show the agency thoroughly reviewed invoices.

In Manhattan and Staten Island, $2,206 of $10,970 in payments — about 20 percent — went for trees that apparently weren’t pruned or shouldn’t have been pruned because they were too small.

But Stringer praised Queens for its tree work, saying the borough “could be used as a guide to assist the other four borough offices.”

The Department of Parks and Recreation disagrees with the audit conclusions but supports recommendations for improvements. As a result of the audit, the agency said, it now ensures contractors receive consistent and detailed lists of trees to be pruned.

“We have to hold these contractors responsible,” Stringer said.

The agency is already adjusting its program and properly tracking and documenting work and billing.

For fiscal year 2015, the $4.5 million pruning budget has been increased by $1 million.

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